Paris — Electricity delivery boats sail up the Seine, past former palaces and elegant museums, under low stone and metal bridges, then turn at the Eiffel Tower and glide to the riverbank.
The captain, Arnaud Montand, was following the planned route for the opening ceremony of next summer’s Olympic Games and the last leg of the route, the course for Olympic swimmers.
An important part of the Paris bid was not just to host the event on the river, but surprisingly, of that.
“It’s a wonderful window in Paris,” said Montand, behind the wheel in a cozy, glass-enclosed cabin sheltered from the pouring rain. “But when the storm comes, it’s all gone.”
For years, workers in metropolitan Paris have implemented a scheme known as the “swimming scheme”. It’s an engineer’s dream and includes thousands of new underground pipes, tanks and pumps designed specifically to keep harmful bacteria from entering the Seine during storms. If the plan succeeds, the river will be clean enough for Olympic athletes and, later, the nation to swim.
“Do you have a 100 percent guarantee? The answer is no,” said deputy mayor Pierre Labadin, who is leading the city’s Olympic plans, including cleaning up the Seine in time to host two long-distance races and a triathlon swimming competition. said. “If it rains all week before the race, you know the water quality is probably not good, even with all the work that has been done so far.”
But Rabadan also said there were no alternative plans. If the race has to be postponed, organizers say they will simply wait a few days, test the water quality and try again.
The Seine, considered by many to be the most romantic river in the world, is also stinking, murky and covered in the filthy residue of partygoers after a big Saturday night. When it rains heavily, sewage spouts out of his 40 portholes that dot the paved banks of the river.
That’s why many Parisians, even those working on official swimming plans, are appalled at the idea of jumping into a river.
“Have you ever seen the Seine?” Michael Rodriguez said from behind a hole in the sidewalk that connects new pipes to the house to keep sewage out of the river. “I’m not interested.”
It wasn’t always like that. At the first Olympic Games held in Paris in 1900, seven swimming events were held on the river. The year before the Olympics were held again, even after swimming was banned in 1923, locals continued to jump from the Jena Bridge on hot summer days to cool off in the water with the Eiffel Tower in the background. .
However, the river became more and more polluted with sewage and industrial waste. A study in the 1990s classified the section through Paris as one of the highest heavy metal concentrations in the world. river history.
Former Paris mayor and later French president Jacques Chirac promised to return to the era of swimming, pledging in 1990: “Swim in the Seine in front of witnesses to prove that it is clean” river. “
That never happened.
“They were all very nice words,” said Jean-Marie Mouchel, a hydrologist and Sorbonne professor who has studied the Seine for 30 years. “There were no plans to swim in the Seine until 2020,” he said, although many improvements have been made to the river’s water quality, especially due to the modernization of the sewage treatment plant.
The Olympics have changed the game by not only pushing the plan forward, but committing a budget of €1.4 billion (over $1.53 billion) to execute the plan.
As part of the Olympic legacy, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has promised local residents about 20 swimming holes along the Seine and its upper tributaries, the Marne, by the summer of 2025.
“The Olympics were just a catalyst to promote transformation and improvement of water quality,” Rabadan said, adding that the plan brought together more than 20 government agencies, water and sanitation agencies, river and port authorities. “Probably didn’t commit.”
pipes and persuasion
The goal for all agencies involved is to clean the water sufficiently so that levels of two indicator bacteria, E. coli and Enterococcus, are below government-mandated standards. European bathing directive. Olympic standards allow a slightly higher level, subject to committee approval.
A French team has been testing Seine water regularly since 2020, and about half of the samples met their target last summer. However, they were occupied by long stretches of the river and its tributaries for three months in the summer.
When officials tested the course for the planned Olympic events (a triathlon swimming portion and two men’s and women’s 10-kilometer events) over a two-week period in late summer, the results were 90% “fair.” was. ‘ means that the Olympic Committee must decide whether to proceed.
Rabadan and other city officials saw this as promising given that most of the swimming plans have yet to be implemented.
“We’re not cleaning up the Seine,” Samuel Colin Canivez, chief engineer for the city’s sewage project, says as he leads a tour through a new tunnel that runs beneath the river. rice field. “Our approach is to keep untreated water from flowing into the Seine.”
A 700-meter tunnel leads to a huge underground storage tank under construction between Austerlitz stations. A hospital with 350 years of history. Between them will be space for 13.2 million gallons, enough to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools.
The tunnel and tank are one of five major civil engineering projects currently being built to combat the storms that overwhelmed Paris’ old sewer system, and more importantly, channel both sewage and storm water. is. When these tunnels fill up with rainwater, everything from rain, sinks and toilet water is released into the Seine.
“Now this happens 12 times a year when it rains heavily in the eastern part of the city,” said Colin Canivez as he walked around the tank under construction. Once complete, the giant reservoir will store its water during storms and slowly return it to the sewers after the rain stops. “Our goal at this time is to reduce that to him by a factor of two.”
It is a wet-weather strategy that keeps sewage from flowing into the Seine. The Dry Climate Strategy includes another set of projects. Some are simple, like upstream he added special treatment to two sewage treatment plants. like a big plant Seine Valenton, 6 miles southwest of Paris, absorbs the wastewater of 2.5 million people. When a small amount of performic acid is introduced into the effluent in June, the level of harmful fecal bacteria will decrease 100-fold, said Vincent Rocher, director of innovation at the Grand Hygiene Department of Paris.
Other teams are going door-to-door in six suburbs of Paris, trying to persuade more than 20,000 homeowners to allow workers to dig up water pipes and reconnect them properly to the sewers. , there are also smaller and more personal activities. This is the number of households considered to be sending wastewater to the Seine and Marne rivers.
“House by house,” said Claire Costell, who heads the project for the south-east of Paris. “There is no other way.”
There are two separate underground system tunnels here. One is dedicated to sewage and the other is reserved for rainwater. But in many cases builders connected the sewer pipes to the stormwater system. On other islands, such as Fanuc’s tiny island, houses were built to dump sewage directly into the Marne River.
Costell said the only way to know which house has a bad connection is to check the plumbing. Her team then tries to convince the homeowner so they can fix the error.
Despite the team being able to offer a €6,000 subsidy to cover the cost of renovations, many homeowners have refused. By March last year, only about 5,000 people had been accepted, according to a city report.
“It’s a delicate thing,” Costell explained. “You can’t force them to open the door.”
Her team was the most successful. At Fanuc, she built new sewer and pump systems for 40 homes.
The selling point for Fanuc and many residents of nearby towns was the Olympic legacy.
“I learned to swim in the Marne when I was a child,” said Jean-Louis, standing outside his brick house in Le Peru-sur-Marne one morning as workers worked to fix the sewers. Mr. Bourgeois, 70, said: “I would be happy if I could swim there again.”
Within the city limits of Paris, workers are after boats, not houses. About 170 ships are moored on the banks of the Seine river upstream from the Olympic venues. Until recently, almost everyone dumped their sewage directly into the river.
In 2018, the city declared that all boats must be connected to the city’s sewage system, and the Port Authority began the costly process of installing sewage connections and pumps in ports without sewage connections and pumps. A water dweller, he was given two years to install a wastewater collection system on his boat.
City officials say only about half have done this so far.
Many boat owners complain that they are being unfairly targeted. Unlike their land-based neighbors, they are not given a choice and retrofitting old boats can cost as much as €25,000, five times more than the subsidies offered by the government.
“Do you think a boat park 30 kilometers from Paris will be connected to the sewage system?” Hervé Lavole, who lives on a renovated 1937 barge anchored near a pedestrian bridge in central Paris. said. “They make noise like this on the 8 p.m. news, so it looks like they’re doing a lot, but it’s ridiculous.”
Paris’s water and sewerage director Nicola Londinski conceded that the boats had relatively little contamination, but said it could make the difference between passing or failing water tests at nearby swimming pools. “If we really want to improve water quality, we have to do everything we can,” he said.
And despite the criticism, Lavolet said he liked the idea of swimming in the Seine. Every night he looks at the river glistening under the city lights while brushing his teeth in the boat’s bathroom.
His beauty always amazes me.
“If you have the opportunity to show the world what the Seine is and offer this view of Paris, that’s a great idea,” he said.